If you emptied the wallet and pocketbook of every person in the country, turned upside-down the register in every store, smashed the piggy banks, looked under the mattresses and behind the couches, and plucked every dollar from every foreign black market, you'd end up with $450.6 billion in loot.
That still wouldn't be enough to buy Microsoft Corp. The software company ended today with a market value of $507 billion, the first time any company has passed the half-trillion level.
Only 10 countries have economies larger than Microsoft. The gross domestic product of the entire United States didn't hit $500 billion until 1960, when William H. Gates III was 5 years old.
In the past decade, the U.S. technology industry has created wealth on scales previously unimaginable. Numbers that seemed impossible are reached and passed almost daily as stock values continue their ascent. Some days it's Internet companies, others it's hardware makers. Today it was Microsoft, producer of the Windows software that runs on most of the world's personal computers.
Gates, its 43-year-old chairman, saw his personal fortune expand by $4,703,551,336 or, assuming he worked for about 10 hours, more than $1 million a second.
It would take Gates's nemesis at the Department of Justice, antitrust chief Joel Klein, about 42,000 years to earn as much as Gates made today.
A mere decade ago, only one American, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton, had a net worth that was greater than what Gates has made since Thursday night. In fact, it would have taken the combined wealth of the 55 American billionaires in 1989, as calculated by Forbes magazine, to reach Gates's current holdings, which total around $100 billion.
Microsoft went public on March 13, 1986, at a price, adjusted for subsequent splits, of 15 cents a share. Today, buoyed by good news, it advanced $5.06 1/4 to a record $99.43 3/4.
Two things apparently powered the stock today: The company won a Connecticut trial where it had been accused of antitrust violations, while longtime rumors resurfaced about Microsoft splitting off its Internet properties into a so-called tracking stock.
That's one of the paradoxes of Microsoft: Though it's now worth more than any other company in history, its executives are said to be unhappy with the value. They feel that the full value of their Internet products -- including the MSN Web service, the Expedia travel operation and the Hotmail e-mail service -- aren't recognized in the Microsoft's stock price.
"Software is relatively mature and extremely profitable," explained Glenn Powers, an analyst with Cruttenden Roth in Seattle. "Internet companies are relatively immature and not very profitable. When you put mature and immature businesses together, you get something that is not optimally attractive to investors who are looking for either of those two things."
The solution: a tracking stock, which would pay or not pay dividends based on the performance of the Internet business. Investors, the logic goes, would quickly bid it through the ceiling, although for all intents and purposes it would still be part of the mother company. Analyst Powers estimated that Microsoft's Internet operations would have a stand-alone market value of about $50 billion.
The Wall Street Journal reported today that an announcement on a tracking stock could come as early as next week. A company spokesman declined to comment.
In the meantime, Microsoft will have to be satisfied with the $500 billion figure. As it happens, the company's executives seem to have had their minds on that sum for a while.
At a meeting with financial analysts last July, Microsoft chief financial officer Greg Maffei jokingly opened with "the 10 top reasons Microsoft is really worth $500 billion."
Reason No. 8 was: "We've been learning something from the cable business -- tracking stocks and the like. Based on Internet costs alone, we think [the company's collection of Web properties] is worth over $200 billion." Add that to the company's then-market value of $300 million, and voila: "We're there."
Exactly a year later, they are.
Microsoft declined to even say whether Gates was at the corporate offices in Redmond, Wash., today. Since the Justice Department sued the company over alleged antitrust violations last fall, Gates has done few interviews.
Despite being the richest person ever, in some ways Gates's tastes have remained modest. He likes playing bridge, and is fond of fast food. If he wanted to share that latter passion with others, he could use his fortune to pay for every purchase made at every one of the 24,800 McDonald's around the world for the next three years.
Various Web sites specialize in examining what Gates could do with his fortune. Among the calculations on the Bill Gates's Net Worth page: He could give every U.S. citizen $338.36 or, if he wanted a more targeted effect, provide $121,545.51 to each of the nation's 760,000 homeless.
To earn as much money as Gates, it would take a minimum-wage worker at 40 hours a week 8,593,955.65 years to catch up. This is more than twice as long as mankind has been around.
What if, the Net Worth page asks in one of its calculations, Gates decided to keep all his stock under his mattress in cash?
The answer: "According to the folks at Slumberland Furniture, an American King Sized bed is 78 by 80 inches, or 6240 square inches, or 43 1/3 square feet in area. It takes 397.57 bills to cover a king-sized mattress. Using all of Bill's money (as $1 bills), you could cover the king-sized mattress with bills 232,347,457.26 bills deep. That means Bill would have a jump of 997,199.38 inches or 15.73 miles to get from the bed to the floor each morning, not counting the thickness of the bed itself."
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this article.
That's a Whole Lot of Market Cap
Microsoft's market capitalization is now $507.5 billion, a figure about equal to the number of dollar bills, stretched end to end, that it would take to go to the moon and back 99 times . . .
Microsoft $507.5 billion
. . . and a figure more than . . .
U.S. personal consumption expenditures on food* in 1997
The gross domestic products of Iran and Chile combined**
All the U.S. currency in circulation
. . . and considerably more than the market cap of some of its major competitors:
IBM $247.3 billion
America Online $130 billion
Hewlett-Packard $115.4 billion
Compaq Computer $46.2 billion
Yahoo $34.0 billion
Apple Computer $8.4 billion
*Bought for off-premise consumption
SOURCES: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1999; Bloomberg News
CAPTION: You'd be smiling, too, if you were Microsoft chief Bill Gates.